Tokyo’s iconic Tsukiji fish market remains in full swing before expected move
By ALLEN ONSTOTT | Stars and Stripes | Published: January 5, 2017
An early-morning bell rings at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, and soon bidders are waving their hands to buy tuna for a price that’s a fraction of what it will go for at restaurants and stores.
The bustling market has been selling fish since before World War II, but it might soon be on the move to nearby Toyosu as the city looks for places to build facilities for the 2020 Olympic Games. The move awaits a decision by Tokyo’s governor.
For now, though, the bidding continues at the central-Tokyo site, with more than 2,000 tons of fish sold each day.
Buyers assess potential purchases with hooks to break off pieces of fish. They feel the flesh for texture and fattiness. They use flashlights to check the tuna’s color and take notes that help them decide the price they are willing to pay.
The auctions are high-speed affairs, over in just a few minutes. If they don’t move quickly, the fish could spoil.
The inner market is where the auctions take place. There are hundreds of small stands in a large, crowded hall where buyers and sellers hurry along narrow lanes with their carts and trucks.
It’s all great for tourists to view and photograph, but they also are essentially obstacles for the business. The aging market was never intended as a tourist attraction, and the rise in visitors has sometimes interfered with the action. The market asks them not to bring luggage into the market and to be alert to what’s happening around them and avoid blocking traffic.
In particular, they need to watch out for thousands of little turret vehicles used by workers. The trucks comprise a cylindrical motor and driving console. They are basically a motorized pallet jack and are quite efficient if a little intimidating when they are heading straight for you.
To prevent accidents, most tourists are not allowed into the wholesale area before 9 a.m., when most of the business takes place.
DIRECTIONS: The market is just above Tsukijishijo Station on the Oedo subway line. It’s also a 5-minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya line.
TIMES: Auctions can be viewed on a first-come, first-serve basis. An initial group of 60 visitors is admitted between 5:25 and 5:50 a.m., while a second group can enter between 5:50 and 6:15 a.m. Lines are usually full by 3 a.m.
COSTS: Other than getting there via train, the market is free, including the auctions.
FOOD: Area shops sell sushi for breakfast, but expect long lines.